Long-vowel IPA symbols

Knowing the Long-vowel sounds and Short-vowel sounds of English can help you be better at pronouncing new words and deciphering spelling patterns, but it also helps to be aware of the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols for the vowels. Some people learn IPA symbols when they first begin to learn English, but others have never seen these symbols before. Either way, it can be useful to refer to them for some aspects of English pronunciation.

One of the main differences between Long and Short-vowels is that Long-vowels have two parts to their sound and Short-vowels have one part. In the Long-vowel IPA symbols below you can see the two parts for each Long-vowel.

LongV IPA

Here are two situations where it is helpful to take a look at the IPA symbols of Long-vowels.

Vowel sequences

A vowel sequence is when there are 2 vowels next to each other, and they both have a sound, and they belong to different syllables, as in the words “idea” (3 syllables), or “fluid” (2 syllables). (NOTE: This is different from vowel pairs that belong to the same syllable and make only one sound.)

In order to pronounce both of the vowels in a sequence clearly, so that they can both be heard clearly, we need to make special use of the second part of the first vowel. Let’s see how that works with the words “idea” and “fluid”.

Idea — In this word the first vowel of the sequence is a Long-E, and the IPA symbol (/iy/) shows a “y” at the end. The trick is to use that “y” part to separate the two vowels. This is done by pronouncing it a little bit stronger than usual. This makes the word sound like it could be spelled as “ideya”.

Fluid — In this word the first vowel is a Long-U. The IPA symbol (/uw/) shows a “w” at the end. This “w” is emphasized, to make a separation between the [u] and the [i], and it sounds like “fluwid”.

Consonant morphing

The consonants “T”, “D”, “C”, “S”, and “Z” sometimes change their sound. Here are some examples:

“virtue” — the “T” sounds like “CH”
“educate” — the “D” sounds like “J”
“sugar” — the “S” sounds like “SH”
“social” — the “C” sounds like “SH”

This kind of consonant change can happen when the consonant is followed by a high-front vowel sound — this is seen as either a “y” or “i” in IPA symbols. In words like these, there is (or once was) either a Long-I-2 /iy/ or a Long-U-1 /yuw/ right after the morphing consonant. The consonant combines with the high-front part of the vowel sound and changes.

In some of these words, the original vowel sound is lost. For example, in “social” the [i] is lost when it combines with the [c] (the [a] remains as schwa). However, in “educate” the [d] gets changed but the Long-U can still be heard.

SO, overall, it is most helpful to know the vowel system in terms of Long and Short-vowels, because many pronunciation patterns make use of them, but also keep your eye on the IPA symbols for extra clues.

Short-vowel IPA Symbols

Knowing how the English vowel system works, with Long-vowels and Short-vowels, can help train your brain to work with English in a way that is similar to how native-speakers process the language. It can help you be better with spelling, and with being more confident in figuring out how to say new words.

At the same time, it is also good to be aware of the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols for the vowels. Obviously this is very helpful if you are already familiar with the IPA symbols. But even if you have never seen these symbols before, taking a look at them can give some helpful insights for English pronunciation.

Remember that Long-vowels have two parts to their sound, and Short-vowels have just one part, and this can be seen in the IPA symbols. The Short-vowel symbols are shown here so that you can see them, and you can also notice that each Short-vowel symbol is a single “letter” which reflects the fact that Short-vowels have just one part. (Long-vowel IPA symbols –coming soon– each have 2 “letters” and they give even more useful clues for pronunciation patterns!)

ShV IPA

Overview of Vowels

Do you know the total number of different vowel sounds in English?

Beginners often think the answer is “five”, because there are five vowel letters in the alphabet. Of course, anyone familiar with this blog already knows that each vowel letter has at least one Long-vowel and one Short-vowel sound. So is it ten vowels total? Nope! The answer is… fifteen different vowel sounds!

The English vowel system is complex, and almost every learner of English has trouble with at least a few of the vowels. The vowel system is the most difficult part of figuring out how to pronounce new words. So, mastering the vowel system can make a huge improvement in the way you sound in English, and it can help you be better at figuring out how to say new words.

All of the vowel sounds have been explained in other posts, so here is the complete list.
(not on audio)

#1 Long-A
#2 Short-a-1
#3 Short-a-2 and Short-o
See: The Sounds of A

#4 Long-E and Long-I-2
#5 Short-e
See: The Sounds of E

#6 Long-I
  — Long-I-2 (Old-style Long-I) — same as Long-E
#7 Short-i
See: The Sounds of I

#8 Long-O
  — Short-o — same as Short-a-2
  — Short-o-2 (Alternate Short-o) — same as Short-u
See: The Sounds of O

#9 Long-U-1
#10 Long-U-2 and Long-OO
#11 Short-u and Schwa
See: The Sounds of U and The Sound of Schwa

  — Long-OO — same as Long-U-2
#12 Short-oo
See: Long-OO and Short-oo? What’s that?

#13 Vowel /aw/
#14 Vowel /oy/
See: Two Other Vowels

#15 R-vowel
See: The Power of R

Two Other Vowels

There are two vowel sounds that are similar to Long-vowels because they have two parts. However, these two vowels do not have an alphabet letter to represent them, so I use the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols for these two sounds. They are:

Vowel /aw/

This is the sound in words such as: house / out / now / flower. This sound is usually spelled with the letters “OU” or “OW”, BUT be careful…

  • not every word with “OU” has this sound. The vowel pair “OU” has many different pronunciations (this is explained in OU – Oh no!).
  • not every word with “OW” has this sound. Some words with “OW” have a Long-O sound, such as “slow” or “own”.

Vowel /oy/

This sound is in words such as: boy / oyster / oil / choice. This vowel is spelled with either “OI” or “OY”.

These two vowels are not usually difficult for students to pronounce. In fact, I have never seen a situation where someone has had difficulty communicating clearly in English due to errors with these two vowels.

There is just one thing to keep in mind about pronouncing them. Since these vowels — as well as the regular Long-vowels — have two parts, the tongue needs to be active. So, to pronounce them well, the tongue needs to move or slide, in order to pronounce both parts, and to sound clear and natural.

Long-OO

There is no letter “OO” in the English alphabet, but Long-OO and Short-oo are part of the vowel system.

Short-oo

Short-oo is a unique vowel sound that is not represented by any other vowel letter. This vowel is explained in “Short-oo? What’s that?”

Long-OO

Long-OO does not have its own sound. It uses the Long-U-2 sound. Long-OO is really more of a “helper” to Long-U — it’s an alternate way to spell the Long-U-2 sound. Long-OO takes the place of the letter “U” in words that need a Long-U-2 instead of Long-U-1. (see Long-U: 1 or 2?). Here are some examples,

fool  — If we spelled this word with a “U”, the “F” would trigger a Long-U-1, and the word would end up sounding like the word “fuel”. So, in order to have a Long-U-2 sound in “fool”, the “OO” is used instead of a “U”.

boot – If this word had a “U” it would be “bute” — because a “B” also requires Long-U-1. So again, the “OO” helps out to keep a Long-U-2 sound.

coo – This word would sound like “cue”, if it had a “U” instead of “OO”.

Spelling Patterns

Long-OO and Short-oo also sometimes follow spelling patterns used by the other vowels. For example, the spelling rule in which an [-e] at the end of a word indicates a long vowel, can also be seen in some words with “OO”:

  • If you see an [-e] at the end of a word with “OO” you know for sure that it is Long-OO, as in the words “soothe”,  “goose” and “snooze”.
  • However, if you see a word that does not have an [-e] at the end, it could have either sound. Some have Long-OO, such as “food”, “school” and  “moon”. Some have Short-oo, such as “hook”, “wool” and “good”.

So that’s the scoop on Long-OO.

Cider Inside Her

apple cider jugHere is a fun limerick. First, listen to how it sounds:

There once was a lady from Hyde
Who ate some green apples and died
The apples fermented
Inside the lamented
And made cider inside her insides

 

The fun part of this limerick is the last line, but it would not sound so interesting without sentence stress, reductions, and linking.

Listen again, while looking at the strong words:

There ONCE was a LAdy from HYDE
Who ATE some green APPLES and DIED
The APples ferMENted
InSIDE the laMENted
And made CIDer inSIDE her inSIDES

Here is why the last line sounds funny:
1. The three stressed syllables all have the same consonant and vowel sounds.
2. The word “her” is reduced — the “H” is missing, so it sounds like “-er”.
3. The word “inside” is linked to the word “her” (which is reduced) and sounds like “insider”, and this matches the sound of the word “cider”.

Now listen to how different it sounds if I say the last line with all of the words spoken carefully and clearly (without linking and reductions): And made cider inside her insides.

So, sentence stress can be fun! In fact, without it, many jokes and puns in English would not be funny at all.

Two Limericks Part 2

IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN TWO LIMERICKS YET, GO THERE FIRST!

Here are the strong words of the Two Limericks.

There ONCE was a FLY on the WALL.
I WONdered “why DIDn’t it FALL?”
WERE it’s feet STUCK?
Or WAS it just LUCK?
Or does GRAvity MISS things so SMALL?

There WAS a young LADY named ROSE.
Who HAD a large WART on her NOSE.
When she HAD it reMOVED,
Her apPEARance imPROVED.
But her GLASSes slipped DOWN to her TOES!

NOTE: Sometimes in poetry or music the “rules” are bent a bit to make the words fit in. In these limericks, some words that are normally strong words are not stressed.

For example, in the phrase “young lady” the word “young” is an adjective, and in normal conversation it would be stressed. However, in order to make proper limerick rhythm, only “lady” is stressed. (The word “lady” is more important than “young” in that phrase).

Having the ability to vary sentence stress in this way is a very helpful skill for learning to speak English with a natural and smooth flow.

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